The White House has decided that the new director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte, will take over from CIA Director Porter J. Goss the responsibility for producing the intelligence material given to President Bush each morning, Bush Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. said yesterday.
The President's Daily Brief (PDB), a roughly 20-page collection of 10 or more highly classified analytic articles or raw operational intelligence reports, provides the foundation for the 30-minute national security briefing that starts Bush's day.
Negroponte "will be in with the president virtually every day to help the president as he goes through his intelligence briefing," Card said yesterday on NBC's "Today" show. "He'll be responsible for producing the President's Daily Brief."
Card's comments reinforced with more detail Bush's statement Thursday in appointing Negroponte that he would be involved in the morning briefing as his new chief intelligence adviser. Negroponte will oversee the 15 agencies in the Defense Department and elsewhere that make up the U.S. intelligence community; his job was created by Congress in December as part of legislation meant to improve government-wide coordination and performance on intelligence.
Transfer to Negroponte of responsibility for producing the PDB was seen as another signal from the White House to the intelligence community of the new chief's standing.
How intelligence is presented to the president, including the PDB, and whether there ought to be changes are being studied by Bush's presidential commission on intelligence, headed by retired federal judge Laurence H. Silberman and former senator Charles S. Robb (D-Va.).
The panel, officially called the President's Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, was originally established to look at three areas: the intelligence community's failure to understand Saddam Hussein's weapons programs, its work on Libya and the A.Q. Khan nuclear network, and U.S. knowledge of the nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran.
More recently, however, Bush has asked the commission to recommend ways that the new DNI can mesh with current practices and the bureaucracy. Card estimated yesterday that Negroponte's office would have 500 to 1,000 employees.
The PDB is put together nightly by a relatively small staff of CIA senior analysts, drawing on materials prepared by the CIA's Directorate of Intelligence staff of several thousand analysts. This is supplemented by some operational material, often electronic intercepts, imagery or reports from human agents that come in each day, according to a senior intelligence official. "There are no fixed numbers of people who prepare material for the PDB," the official said.
How Negroponte will put the PDB together, and whether it will incorporate intelligence analysis from outside CIA, remains to be seen.
The Silberman-Robb commission and its staff have interviewed a number of officials and experts, including some who have criticized the CIA's managing of the PDB.
"One of the best things to do with the PDB is to take it away from CIA," said one former senior intelligence official, with experience both inside CIA and other agencies and who has spoken to the commission and its staff. "A lot of what is in the PDB can be picked up from newspapers." He said he told the commission: "What is in the PDB should provide him [Bush] with insights that no one else can provide. We are wasting resources doing easy things now."
He added that what the CIA liked about the PDB system was that the director of central intelligence "had guaranteed time with the president where he could say to the president, 'Here is an area you ought to think more about.' "
Another former government official who has held discussions with commission members said the group "is trying hard to get at the bottom of the PDB and analytical problem." The former official, who has long experience within two intelligence agencies, said he told the commission that CIA analysts could "do a much better job, but instead they are worried about the president's briefing every morning."
He said the drive among CIA analysts to gather intelligence "headlines" for the PDB is distorting the agency's analytic production. "Everyone is doing current intelligence but not mining the vast amount [of information] collected . . . for important insights," he said. "They are getting the easily found . . . sexy pieces of collected information and pushing it up the chain to those who brief intelligence to the president," he said he told the commission.
"There are strengths and weaknesses [in the present system] and they [commission members] seem to think more could be done," said one intelligence expert who has met with panel members. He pointed out that in a second term a president "becomes harder to serve and please" because by then he has met world leaders and has more of his own firsthand information.
The commission is expected to present recommendations to the White House in mid-March and make them public at the end of March. They should arrive at just about the time that Negroponte and his new deputy director, Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, will be establishing their agency.
Commissioners met with Goss on Thursday and with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday.
Bush, who has also asked the commission to look at Goss's plan to expand by 50 percent the number of CIA analysts and operations officers, said on Thursday that he had "great confidence" in Robb and Silberman. Both he and Negroponte, the president added, will "address whatever conclusions they have in concrete action."